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Twenty Minutes in Manhattan

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  301 ratings  ·  47 reviews
The walk from my apartment in Greenwich Village to my studio in Tribeca takes about twenty minutes, depending upon the route and whether I stop for a coffee and the Times. Invariably, though, it begins with a trip down the stairs.

And so sets out architecture critic Michael Sorkin on his daily walk from his home in a Manhattan old-law-style tenement building. Sorkin has fo
Hardcover, 215 pages
Published June 30th 2009 by Reaktion Books (first published April 15th 2009)
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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Feb 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
If you look at my list of titles on Goodreads, you can see that I am interested in books that are in a specific place and time. In many ways I think I prefer that than to say 'character.' But then again I find cities and locations are very much character in the sense that the architectural or urban landscape is a narrative in itself and there lies the suspense and often tells how humans react to that environment.

Michael Sorkin, like a skilled surgeon, writes about his neighborhood in lower Manh
Jun 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
In Twenty Minutes in Manhattan, Michael Sorkin uses his rambling walk from home to work as a template for an equally rambling and varied book filled with thought provoking asides about living in NYC, and about the nature of cities and living spaces in general. It's all over the place, which can make it somewhat difficult to get into, but it is worth going along with the author for the ride, as it's a really enjoyable and wide ranging book once you get into it.

It's certainly not perfect, though.
Feb 23, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are little bits of interesting facts buried among his preachy writing. Not worth the time navigating his rant-like writing
Jan 03, 2020 added it
Shelves: urbanism
My first point of comparison is to Marshall Berman's All That Is Solid Melts Into Air -- likewise a eulogy to the New York that once was. The tone of Twenty Minutes in Manhattan is almost purely one of mourning for a time when one could live the Lou Reed sort of dream, one promised to Middle Americans of a certain stripe, and its replacement, the Giulianized and Bloombergized theme park, right on down to detailed accounts of Sorkin's gripes with his landlord. And so, even though it's probably no ...more
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
Meandering and unfocused, plus a lengthy rant about social norms in elevators.
Mar 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
I was looking forward to a good book on the history of neighborhood architecture in NYC. This book looked like if fit the bill but each section that was defined using a specific neighborhood just gave the author space to pontificate on his own personal beliefs and prejudices. Too bad.
Duncan Smith
Jul 24, 2020 rated it liked it
A nice bit of escapism back to one of my favourite places in the world (Greenwich/West Village in NYC), when I can't physically be there. However, beware that a 'twenty minute' escape leads to twenty hour journey, complete with a tangent to go along with each observation made by the author long his walk from home to work. Some of these are fascinating and educational, while others mundane but entertaining (the entertaining bit will depend on your sense of humour... a little Larry David like, par ...more
Ng Ning
May 08, 2020 rated it liked it
This book started off interesting but it got a little tiresome to read after a while.

The writing is considerably rambly, filled with some really inane details about the author’s life and petty opinions about the happenings in the city. There is also a regretful lack of visuals in this book which would have made for good visual reference for the many places mentioned in writing.

The arguments and analyses are scattered throughout the book, woven into his observations of the city, meandering as he
Aug 01, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I got this book as a gift. As someone who has as an MA in Urban Studies (from the 1980s) and who visits New York City once a year it was a great selection. I expected the book to be a light jaunt about walking through the west village and Soho, but it ended up being a much more deep NYC history and a bit too much of his adversarial relationship with his long term landlord.

The book was written in 2008 and one of the most interesting things about it was that trends that we underway in 2008 really
Sabra Kurth
Jul 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was a delightful romp through the Village in Manhattan—part history, part politics, part urban studies. Mr. Sorkin, who died earlier in 2020 from Covid-19, described his daily commute from the Annabel Lee apartments to Hudson St. and in an add-on chapter, Varick St. He described how this part of city changed, why, and what could and probably should have been done differently to make that area of the city better for all rather than just a well-heeled few.
Aug 23, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Yeah, I'm no longer as obsessed with NYC as I used to be. I should've read this sooner. Also, it's an architecture book and I only cared about the author's observations on other things mingled with buildings and construction commentary. Not my cup of tea.
Vincent Ribeiro
Jan 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
As an architect born and raised in NYC, I truly appreciate the little adventure Sorkin took us on his walk. I found myself marveling over the similarities between his experiences and my own, as his analysis of urban planning, architecture and societal structures unfold in joyful commentary.
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
The next best thing to taking a dérive through the Village yourself on a temperate summer afternoon. It's a briskly written grab bag of urban planning and architectural theory, history, and local color. Really fun, if you're into that kind of thing. Special cameo by sociologist Mitch Duneier.
Tyler Welch
Aug 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was quite good but what I really enjoyed were all of the Google Maps and Wikipedia rabbit holes it led to. Disclaimer: this may only be applicable to other NYC/Architecture/Urban Planning fanboys.
Sep 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting take on Manhattan's history and present. But overall I found the author to be overly verbose and found the book about 50 pages too long.
Jun 06, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Interesting content, but the title and summary are misleading. I learned a lot about urbanism, architecture and history, but the tone makes it at times boring and long to read.
To fully enjoy this book, do you have to live along the walk Michael Sorkin uses as the basis for free-ranging meditations about urban life and community, and it's perpetual struggle with real-estate developers? Although I do, I don't think it's necessary: Twenty Minutes in Manhattan ranges over all of NYC and adduces examples from other cities in the U.S. and abroad, describing and analyzing in an attractive flowing prose the signs indicating the rise and fall of urban neighborhoods, and the pe ...more
Shakara Petteway
Feb 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Twenty Minutes in Manhattan is an exploration of the mundane task of a daily twenty minute walk between the author's apartment and his studio. Each chapter divides the walk into different sections, ranging from as broad as the neighborhood of Tribeca to the more specific stairs of Annabel Lee, Sorkin's apartment building.

His topics of exploration are just as diverse. He speaks of the laws governing the architectiur of buildings, the battle between tenant and landlord, the forces of gentrificatio
Oct 07, 2011 rated it liked it
I appreciate Sorkin's balanced appraisal of New York's urban antagonists of the mid-20th century, Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. Sorkin's ambulatory essays often focus on the tensions between private profit-seeking and collective action for the public good; he is no doubt right to be alarmed by the squeezing out of the poor and middle class from Manhattan. His criticisms can be refreshingly blunt: "As urbanism, it's vandalism," but he is also prone to professional jargon: "a genius loci via a for ...more
Jul 15, 2014 rated it did not like it
The book is relatively well written although the style is pompous at best and a thinly veiled rant fundamentally driven by a sense of entitlement.

(I grew up 10 blocks away from his apt during the same period that he moved there and i can guarantee you my working class family did not shop at Balducci's or Jefferson Market because it was too expensive.... he was part of the wave of gentrification that has now left him behind and is whining because what happened to those of us who made up Little S
May 12, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sorkin is an interesting, grouchy, intellectual, with an elaborate (though fully comprehensible) writing style. An architect and urban planner in Manhattan, he takes the conceit of the book (the 20 minutes it takes him to walk from his home in Greenwich Village to his studio in Tribeca) and uses it to expand on ideas of history, politics, social issues, and some broad, tangential material that doesn't deliver on the aforementioned conceit. I allowed myself to skim pages at a time, when his train ...more
Aug 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
I was initially disappointed that this wasn't a "walking tour" of Lower Manhattan, per se. Instead there are some fascinating tangents about the history of the Village, Soho and Tribeca; landlord/tenant concerns, including the pros and cons of rent control; issues around physical space; and a general sense that NYC has fallen completely down the path of gentrification/Disneyland-ization that is now common in American cities more generally and that the burrough is increasingly pricing out all tha ...more
Dense and erudite high-concept book. Ostensibly about a 20 minute walk from point A to point B, in Manhattan, it's really a meditation on urban planning, rent control, Jane Jacobs, waste management, the mallification of Soho, storm water run-off, traffic calming, Richard Serra's Tilted Arc, elevator etiquette, cast iron buildings, zoning and street life. Et cetera. It's worth reading, especially if you're interested in what makes a city.
I would - before reading - print out a Google map of the w
Dec 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A great concept -- pretty much the absent-minded professor rambles about stuff he sees along his 20-minute walk to work in New York, with most themes related to architecture and urban planning. Definitely not for everyone, but I really enjoyed his historical tangents and interior monologues, particularly related to the history of the staircase through Europe and in New York (at the beginning) and elevator etiquette (at the end).
Oct 18, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: urbanism
Sorkin spends a lot of time worrying about gentrification, often ranting about it. Yet strangely, it seems that he was part of a wave of it.

While it's certainly an issue in New York City, he seems to not diagnose that it's a symptom of the limited supply of quality urban places versus the demand for them.

Like his next book, this one could have been titled "All Over The Map" as well. The walk to work provides very little structure for the rants and thoughts that are presented.
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
informative and interesting, this read had a lot more than I was expecting. unfortunately this is one of the few times that that mismatch affected my perception of a book to the negative.
what I thought would be more of a personal play-by-play of a neighborhood walk became more a sprawling discussion on cities, architecture, and planning.
will be enjoyable for architecture and city planning people for sure!
Mar 13, 2010 marked it as abandoned
It isn't this book, it's me. I wanted something else when I picked this up and was disappointed at the reality. It has a lot of history and facts and details...and maybe another day this would have interested me...but probably not. Just not my kind of read. I wont star it because it just is not fair.
Jun 19, 2010 rated it liked it
This book has some interesting minutiae on the history and current structural organization of Greenwich Village in Manhattan, but I didn't like the tone of the book at all. The language is pretentious and clunky, and it left me with the impression that the writer is not a very pleasant person to be around.
Mar 28, 2012 rated it did not like it
Concept seems good, but the book is utterly boring, especially for those who prefer fiction. It reads like a long essay full of facts that are most likely meaningless to anyone who isn't from New York. The author's tone is condescending and doesn't do much to encourage people to visit the city, which he seems to describe as a club that only he and a select few would understand.
Callie Craighead
Aug 20, 2014 rated it liked it
I read this book for a class I was taking about New York City and it's history. The abundance of information in this book is overwhelming, and at times too much to take in. I did find little bits and facts that I found really interesting, but then Sorkin digressed and I became confused. Overall, not a book I would read by choice.
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Michael Sorkin (born 1948, Washington, D.C.) is an American architectural critic and author of several hundred articles in a wide range of both professional and general publications. He is the Principal of Michael Sorkin Studio in New York City, a design practice devoted to both practical and theoretical projects at all scales, with special interest in sustainable urban environments/green city arc ...more

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